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Pence pledges to finish I-69, ponders public-private deal

– Gov.-elect Mike Pence is looking at public-private partnerships as one of the methods Indiana might use to finish the state’s 142-mile Interstate 69 extension.

Pence, who takes office Jan. 14, said his administration will prioritize completing the Evansville-to-Indianapolis project, the first half of which was built under outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels, a fellow Republican.

“We’re going to finish that work. We’re going to find out where to do it, we’re going to find out how to do it, but we’re going to do it,” Pence said in mid-December.

Daniels has pointed to public-private partnerships as one option for finishing the highway. He noted that one of the new Ohio River bridges in the works is being built with private money that will be repaid through tolls.

Pence has also identified public-private partnerships as one of the “various options” his team will examine, the Evansville Courier & Press reported Saturday.

The first 67 miles of the I-69 extension opened in November from Evansville to Crane, and the segment from Crane to Bloomington is set to open by the end of 2014, bringing the highway to 94 miles.

The money that the state tapped for the highway – a portion of the $3.8 billion the state got for leasing the Indiana Toll Road – has already been spent or allocated, raising the question of how the state will pay for the highway’s 48 miles between Bloomington and Indianapolis’ south side.

Once the money from the Toll Road is gone, the I-69 project will have to compete with other bridge and road projects for the shrinking pot of gas tax funds available for infrastructure upgrades.

But the Indiana Department of Transportation – whose commissioner, Michael B. Cline, will continue in that post under Pence – recently asked contractors to propose ways they might play a greater role in completing the highway.

INDOT has thus far played a central role in managing each section of the highway’s construction.

The agency’s staff has led the way in producing environmental impact statements, designing route options and choosing which one to build, and hiring contractors to build the segments. INDOT also maintains the highway after it’s built.

But the information that INDOT posted in recent weeks asks contractors to submit ideas spelling out how it could handle the highway’s section five that will run from Bloomington to Martinsville, including design, construction and maintenance.

INDOT said the goal is to cut costs by awarding the project in a single contract, rather than several.

Cline said the private sector has “very, very creative people” and the agency is asking for their input.